Creating new manufacturing jobs by replacing glass and metal with plastic

Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science

Colin Hall: Prize for New Innovators

Colin Hall (Photo credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)

Colin Hall (Photo credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)

Dr Colin Hall and his colleagues have created a new manufacturing process that will allow manufacturers to replace components made from traditional materials like glass, in cars, aircraft, spacecraft, and even whitegoods—making them lighter and more efficient.

Their first commercial success is a plastic car wing-mirror. The Ford Motor Company has already purchased more than 1.6 million mirror assemblies for use on their F-Series trucks. The mirrors are made in Adelaide by SMR Automotive and have earned $160 million in exports to date. Other manufacturers are assessing the technology. And it all started with spectacles.

Colin used his experience in the spectacle industry to solve a problem that was holding back the University of South Australia team’s development of their new technology. He developed the magic combination of five layers of materials that will bind to plastic to create a car mirror that performs as well as glass and metal, for a fraction of the weight.

For his contribution to creating a new manufacturing technology, Dr Colin Hall from the University of South Australia receives the inaugural Prize for New Innovators. 

Plastics have transformed the spectacles industry. Fifty years ago spectacles were heavy and broke easily. Today most spectacles are light, strong, water repellent, scratch resistant, and anti-reflective. The transformation is due to the use of plastic lenses coated with layers of materials that provide the necessary properties. Critically for the invention of the plastic car mirror, Colin worked as a researcher for nine years with SOLA, the Adelaide-founded company that pioneered the replacement of glass in spectacles.

Car manufacturers are continually working to reduce the weight of their cars and to use less toxic manufacturing processes. Replacing the shiny metal components on cars with plastics is an obvious place to start. Plastic is lighter and easier to shape and manufacture, and making a plastic mirror is not difficult. But making a plastic mirror that will perform year after year in the Arizona desert or a Swedish winter is much harder. Car-makers will only commit after an extreme testing regime that demonstrates that a new component will perform for the life of the car.

Colin studied plastic components already on the market. He found that the mirror coatings had poor surface finish, and the metal layer was weakly bonded to the plastic so that it would inevitably fail when exposed to heat, cold and UV. Inspired by his work on spectacles, Colin developed a new approach that involves:

  • a resin layer that coats the plastic and removes imperfections in the moulding
  • a silicon dioxide layer that reduces temperature stress and abrasion
  • a chrome alloy layer that acts as the mirror, and also reflects UV
  • another silicon dioxide layer for abrasion resistance
  • and a water-repelling layer for easy cleaning and defrosting.

The combination delivers a highly reflective, shatterproof, long-lasting mirror. Its invention is the subject of five patents.

The underlying technology will also make factories safer. Electroplated chrome plastics are currently used for many metal-like plastic parts from car badges to ‘stainless steel’ fridge handles. This technology is being phased out in the European Union because of carcinogens used in production.

The inventions of Colin and his colleagues at the University of South Australia’s Future Industries Institute have already created new manufacturing jobs in Adelaide. There could be many more as their new manufacturing technology is applied across industry.

Career profile, Dr Colin Hall

Qualifications

 2014 PhD (Minerals and Materials), University of South Australia
 1994 Bachelor of Applied Science (Honours) (Applied Physics), University of South Australia
 1993 Bachelor of Applied Science (Applied Physics), University of South Australia

 

Career highlights

 2015–ongoing Senior Research Fellow, Future Industries Institute, University of South Australia
 2015 GM Holden scholarship, Governor’s Leadership Foundation program
 2014-ongoing Secretariat, SA Branch of Materials Australia
 2014–2016 Chief Investigator, Low cost heliostat, Australian Solar Thermal Research Initiative
 2012–2017 Chief Investigator, Next generation automotive coatings, AutoCRC
 2012 Best PhD Student seminar, Ian Wark Research Institute
 2012 Ford made the SMR plastic convex spotter mirror standard in F350 and F250 models
 2011–2015 Technical Advisory Committee, Society of Vacuum Coaters
 2011–2014 Research Fellow, Mawson Institute, University of South Australia
 2011 Automotive Engineering Excellence Award (Silver), Society of Automotive Engineers, Australia
 2011 Research Excellence Award, AutoCRC
 2009–2014 Chief Investigator, Nanohardness properties of human enamel, Australian Dental Research Foundation
 2008–2011 Research Fellow, Ian Wark Research Institute, University of South Australia
 2004–2009 Research Fellow, Centre for Advanced Manufacturing Research, University of South Australia
 1995–2004 Research Physicist, SOLA International Holdings Research Centre

 

Further reading

people.unisa.edu.au/colin.hall

au.linkedin.com/in/colinhallunisa

@ColinJamesHALL

Colin Hall (Photo credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)

Colin Hall (Photo credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)

Colin Hall (credit: Prime Minister's Prizes for Science/Wildbear)

Colin Hall (credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/Wildbear)

Colin Hall (credit: Prime Minister's Prizes for Science/Wildbear)

Colin Hall (credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/Wildbear)

Colin Hall (credit: Prime Minister's Prizes for Science/Wildbear)

Colin Hall (credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/Wildbear)

Colin Hall (credit: Prime Minister's Prizes for Science/Wildbear)

Colin Hall (credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/Wildbear)

Colin Hall (credit: Prime Minister's Prizes for Science/Wildbear)

Colin Hall (credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/Wildbear)

Colin Hall (credit: Prime Minister's Prizes for Science/Wildbear)

Colin Hall (credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/Wildbear)